Wednesday, September 30, 2009

An Open Book

I had written an exhaustive post the other week about my six-plus weeks (and counting) of unemployment. I wanted it to be a kind of an inside look at what being unemployed is like (i.e. it’s a lot of work) but it didn’t make for a very interesting read, and was probably more than anyone would really care to know. So instead I’ve decided to re-visit another post I started and abandoned:

My Top Five Books (in no particular order)*

1) 1) 1984 by George Orwell: To know me is to know my obsession with all things Orwell. I’ve read all of his books, several essays, and a biography or two. He is the kind of writer I want to be, both in style and content. 1984 is of course his most famous work, but it wasn’t one of the first I read by him, and it’s one of the classics that’s a classic for a reason. It’s a book that stays with you forever. I’ve seen the (US-banned!) film version and a stage production, and both were mostly well done, but nothing has ever compared to the way the book draws you in and changes the way you look at the world.

2) 2) Pull of the Moon by Elizabeth Berg: Sure, she’s an Oprah Book Club alumni (but sometimes Oprah has really good taste) and maybe her books aren’t high literature and the target audience may be middle-aged ladies, but Elizabeth Berg knows how to write characters and dialog like few authors. She writes honestly and without pretension, and creates people that you actually care about living in a world that seems familiar even if it’s one you don’t live in. Her main characters are always women and in this book it’s a woman in her 60s alone on the road trying to find herself writing journals and letters to her confused husband she abandoned at home. I read it as a 19-year-old and knew just how she felt. That’s good writing. Plus I met Elizabeth Berg in Chicago once; she’s a wonderfully nice lady.

3) 3)The Bell Jar by Silvia Plath: This one goes out to my angsty 14-year-old self. I’m sure I’d feel differently about it now, but at the time it just all seemed so…deep. I remember sitting on the porch and in my bedroom reading Silvia Plath and all J.D. Salinger that spring and feeling so misunderstood.

4) 4) Without a Net edited by Michelle Tea: The only non-fiction book on my list. While some parts are more well-written than others, the message in this collection of essays by women who grew up Working Class articulates parts of my own experience growing up as well as issues such as racism, sexual identity and feminism, and the co-opting of downtrodden cultures in a straightforward and honest way that few books I’ve read have.

5) 5) Caucasia by Danzy Senna: Reading this book was the best thing to come out of my short lived time in a Book Club, and one of the most interesting multi-layered discussions about a book I’ve ever had with a group of people. On the surface it’s a book about race (in fact Borders seems to think it’s only for Black People, but aside from racial identity, it was a beautiful and artfully woven story of a girl’s relationship with her father, politics, growing up.

Honorable Mentions:

· Down and Out in London and Paris by George Orwell : His best book about class and that’s saying a lot), I read it while I was living in London and it gave me a new perspective on the city’s history, plus this is actually the first Orwell book I ever read and your first is always special.

· A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith: I was reading this book when I was in the process of moving to New York and several random people approached me while I was reading it to tell me how much they loved it. It was a memorable story and an interesting history lesson about the city I was moving to.

· Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides: An epic story that covers the gamut from sexual and national identity, and a lot of history of my home state.

· Oh the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss: Along with the Lorax, the best Seuss books, plus this one makes a perfect graduation speech.

· Without Reservations by Alice Steinbach: The best travel book I’ve read, it was particularly meaningful because I was reading it as I was moving abroad.

*Anyone who loves books or music or movies always has a hard time picking their favorites, and so there are tons of books I love that I didn’t think to include.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Never Forget to Remember

While they say tragedy +time= comedy, there appears to be no such formula to figure out exactly how long is appropriate before it’s OK to joke about things. If there was it might be something like this:

Cultural impact of tragedy - amount of time that has passed = risk of “too soon” reaction.

Some examples:

Michael Jackson’s Death: Gave the World Thriller, but maybe molested young boys, happened 3 months ago= too late, most of the MJ jokes happened within the first week of his death and weren’t funny.

AIDS kills millions of people, but is no longer as big of a scare for middle and upper class people, and has been around for nearly 30 years. So an AIDS joke, while maybe not always in good taste, if done well is probably safe.

But what about 9/11? Less than 3,000 people died, eight years ago…. While people might not be ready to laugh about it, I do think it’s time we move on at least somewhat. After all, is suspending all other news coverage for a memorial service once a year a healthy thing as a nation? Is repeatedly wrapping ourselves up in mourning and tragedy productive? Is the constant coverage every year out of a sense of obligation, or just lazy journalism? A National Day of Service? A useful and noble idea. Not being able to get any other news once a year? The terrorists have won.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Halloween Ideas

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. And while I have a bit of an artsy/crafty streak, I've never been one of those people who can make a really cool costume. My best work was probably when I was a box of popcorn in Middle School, of course I had to take the box off if I wanted to sit down.

Last year I kind of copped out a bit as was a flapper:

Here are a few of my ideas for this year. (if blogger had a poll feature that I could find/figure out I'd let you vote, instead leave your opinions in the comments)

Easy to do:

Rosie the Riveter

cotton candy: (my idea for this costume is not exactly the same, but along these lines)

Mark has already decided on his costume but before he did we thought about a few couples costumes including my favorite, Kermit and Ms. Piggy (again I'm not sure I'd do it this way exactly, but it's not bad)

And finally, we talked about being a monkey and a banana, inspired by this baby costume:

Friday, September 4, 2009

What I learned during my time as a magazine editor

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of July 2009, the unemployment rate in the U.S. is 9.4%. (14.5 million people) Of that, almost tens of thousands of print journalists have found themselves out of work in 2009; well…add one more to that number.

In light of all this, it is of course it’s spectacular thing that I was laid off on last month. To me however, it is. I’m now competing for work with more talented and experienced journalists than the population of the town I grew up in, in what is probably the absolute worst time to be an unemployed print journalist.

Losing a job you love is like a bad break up. Except I was at this job longer than I’ve ever managed to hold onto any boyfriend I’ve had, and unlike after a break-up I can’t just swear off working for awhile.

Much like a relationship gone sour however, I’m looking for a lesson to be learned from all this. Is it, as so many are prone to say, a blessing in disguise? Should I serve as a cautionary tale for hopeful young journalism students? I worked extremely hard to get where I was, and worked extremely hard while I was there, to the praise of my bosses and co-workers. So what is this other than another unremarkable sob story? What did I learn during my nearly three years as a magazine editor?

1) I 1)It’s at all not as glamorous as TV and movies make it out to be, and that’s a good thing. And newsflash, living in NYC is nothing like Sex in the City or Friends. Maybe it is for some people, and it can have glamorous moments, sure. The swag is nice, press conferences and events can range from fun to unbearable. There’s a lot of smoozing and contact/relationship building, but really it’s not that much different from a million other offices. And really at the end of the day, I wouldn't want to work in an enviorment of impossible standards, lies, and snobery.

2) 2)Despite it all I refuse to believe that print dead or dying. Just like a tween, it’s in an awkward in-between phase. It’s not news that print media has been woefully behind on getting online, and still very few are doing it well. But they will, they have to, and even though a lot of magazines are folding their print publications and going online only, I don’t think people are ever going to stop reading things on paper.

3) 3)I don’t want to work in PR. Not that I ever thought I did, but man does the job suck. It’s like asking someone on a date and they keep saying no, but you have to keep asking. And the person you are asking out keeps wanting free stuff. That and I've never been able to just bestow the virutes of a product while overlooking its fallacies.

4) 4)Freelancing is harder than working full time. Now that trying my hand at freelancing more seriously than I ever had before I’m realizing how much effort it takes, writing, pitching, and still getting turned down (and most of the time it doesn't pay as well as having a full time job). As with almost everything it seems a lot more who you know rather what you know. As a magazine editor I know how many random pitches publications receive and how many they reject, sometimes with any acknowledgement. That and you never know when you’ll see the check once you do get work.

So I’ve been out of a job for a month now (for the first time in my life) and I’ve learned that it’s a bigger blow than I would have expected. And I’ve learned that I have to do all the things I’ve always hated: networking, asking for help and favors, shameless self promotion. I’ve yet to sleep in on a weekday, I’ve been working harder than I was when I had a full time job, but I’ve been also been taking one day a week to enjoy life, go to museums, parks, not be in my apartment in front of my laptop all the time. I’m not doing as poorly as I thought I would.

So what’s next? I’m really not sure, I know I’m not ready to give up on this print journalism thing. I know, at least I should start blogging more and maybe make this thing more cohesive. So there’s that upswing….